Thursday, September 13, 2007

College Football Picks - September 15

Last Week: 13-3
This Season: 27-6

Thursday, September 13
Maryland vs. #4 West Virginia - 7:30 PM - ESPN

Last year in this one, Maryland's offense played prety well, but like most their defense couldn't stop West Virginia in a 45-24 loss at Morgantown. In two games this year, it's been the offense that's been struggling, though it's not without potential - QB Jordan Steffy and the dual threat tailbacks in Keon Lattimore and Lance Ball have real talent, but Maryland struggled in beating 1AA Villanova 31-14, and Florida International last week 26-10. The Fridge can get Maryland back on the national relevancy scene with a win here, and in the long run the Terps may end up being an ACC dark horse. But no matter the environment or the potential, Maryland's offense at its best still won't be enough to keep pace with West Virginia.
West Virginia 34 - Maryland 23

Saturday, September 15
Michigan State vs. Pittsburgh - 12:00 PM - ESPN

Michigan State has been quietly impressive the first two weeks, having turned to a more power running attack in beating UAB 55-18 on opening weekend and outrushing the Dragons 298-12, then beating Bowling Green (who upset Minnesota in week one) 28-17 and showing they could pass too, as Brian Hoyer went 17 of 29 for 250, 2 TDs and 2 INTs. Dave Wannstedt's Pittsburgh team is also 2-0, though somewhat less impressive in beating Eastern Michigan 27-3 and Grambling 34-10. So far, Mark Dantonio has everything going forward in East Lansing, and in what should be an ugly game, the Spartans should be good enough to get the home win. Pitt has been playing backup QB Kevan Smith since Bill Stull went down with a thumb injury in the EMU game, and it's about a week too early for the annual Michigan State Season Collapse that Dantonio will try and avoid, which no Michigan State coach post-Saban has been able to do. But no worries, Notre Dame is up next.
Michigan State 21 - Pittsburgh 20

Syracuse vs. Illinois - 12:00 PM - ESPNU
It's highly possible that Syracuse is the worst BCS conference team in college football. I can't remember a time like this where a coach left (Paul Pasqualoni) and then the team got drastically worse. And I'm sure it's not all Greg Robinson's fault, but this team was 4-8 last year, and so far in 2007 they've been hammered 42-12 by Washington, and 35-0 by Iowa. Now, they did beat Illinois 31-21 on the road last year. The Illini have played well since the early parts of the Missouri game, rallying to give themselves a chance to win that one, and then shutting out Western Illinois 21-0 last week. Juice Williams continues to be the most tantilizing and frustrating at the same time player in the country, with incredible athleticism and shoddy accuracy throwing the football. Washington already proved that the Carrier Dome ain't what it used to be, and while Illinois isn't Washington, it's just hard to pick Syracuse in any game this year. So I'm going to hope that Juice beats Syracuse more than he gets Illinois beat.
Illinois 27 - Syracuse 20

Auburn vs. Mississippi State - 12:30 PM - LF Sports (SEC)
Nothing's free in the SEC, so Auburn - who had a bad habit of not showing up at times last year - needs to do so on Saturday. Being that they're still 0-0 in conference, I think they will. Even if Mississippi State isn't talented enough to beat them on the road, the Auburn fanbase has to be the most concerned in the conference right now. Brandon Cox does not appear, or at least is yet to appear capable of winning games or leading the offense to victory - last week he was 16 of 35 and threw 2 INTs. The running game ain't what it used to be. Last week the leading receiver was Maryville's own Carl Stewart, who as you'll recall, isn't a wide receiver. In the loss last week, Auburn turned it over five times. On defense, Auburn is fierce, and Quentin Groves has looked like the best defensive end in the nation so far this year. But asking the defense to win the game already hasn't worked out. You have to question if Auburn is goin g to be good enough offensively to compete with the rest of the conference, not just the LSU's of the world.

Meanwhile, Mississippi State rebounded from the opening beating from LSU and turned in one of its best performances under Sly Croom last week, beating Tulane 38-17 and picking up 489 yards of offense. The Bulldogs are a program looking for six wins, and since one of their non-conference games is at West Virginia, and they don't play Vanderbilt, they'll take anything they can get. The good that Michael Henig and Anthony Dixon did last week probably won't translate against the Auburn defense - MSU is going to need a flat Auburn performance and plenty of turnovers to win this one. Even if Auburn is flat, they probably played as poorly as they're going to play on offense last week. Auburn makes it more comfortable in the second half.
Auburn 27 - Mississippi State 13

North Carolina vs. Virginia - 12:30 PM - LF Sports (ACC)
North Carolina and the return of Butch Davis have been interesting so far. They beat James Madison 37-14 in week one and got solid play from QB TJ Yates, then showed that it won't come all at once against East Carolina last week, losing a 34-31 shootout. The line on UNC thus far is that they can pass (Yates 344 and 3 TDs against ECU) and can't stop the pass (ECU QB Patrick Pinkney 406 yards and 3 TDs), they can't run but can stop the run. Or perhaps they just haven't played a good running team yet. Either way, Carolina has the offensive weapons in Yates and WR Brandon Tate to score points.

Virginia was my pick for the big cinderella story of the year. They couldn't have done a better job of making me look stupid: they went to Wyoming in week one and didn't just lose, they got humiliated 23-3, where they got outrushed 218-7. Seven. Against Wyoming. Jameel Sewell couldn't produce against Wyoming, then got benched during the Duke game, which the Cavs still managed to win 24-13 with respectable play from backup Peter Lalich and a 137 yard effort from RB Cedric Peerman. So they can run, sort of. But the problem here is, if UNC is weak against the pass, can UVA exploit that weakness? I think not. The Tar Heels know it's a work in progress and will come out hot for their first ACC game. The Cavs players have been bad for awhile, and have to be pretty sure at this point that it's not going to get better anytime soon. UNC is a program that should be good at football, and under Butch Davis they'll get back there. It'll start here at 1-0 in the ACC. Sorry, Virginia, but I've turned my back on you already. Seven rushing yards against Wyoming.
North Carolina 24 - Virginia 13

Iowa State vs. Iowa - 1:30 PM - Versus
Gene Chizik is remembering brighter days. His stint at Iowa State has started with a 23-14 loss to Kent State, then a 24-13 loss to Northern Iowa. So now, the Hawkeyes come rolling into town, who, based on current evidence, have to feel like they've got just as good a shot as anyone to win the Big 10. They started ugly, beating Northern Illinois 16-3. Then they pummeled Syracuse 35-0. So while the competition hasn't been great, it's not going to get any greater this week. Iowa still has Albert Young, and while the Cyclones have pulled the upset before in this one, there's no evidence to support that idea in 2007. Keep an eye on Iowa.
Iowa 24 - Iowa State 10

#5 Florida vs. #22 Tennessee - 3:30 PM - CBS
The how and why should make it to the blog later this week, but needless to say I'm going with the Vols. Gametime temp is 87 with a 40% chance of rain, Gators are 8 point favorites, Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson brining the commentary, and Urban Meyer's personality is still questionable at best.

Michigan vs. Notre Dame - 3:30 PM - ABC
In a twisted sort of way, this might be the most interesting game of the week. At least it appears that way with the amount of coverage it gets, far surpassing the SEC showdowns or the USC/Nebraska game. What's really interesting here is that, while we're all quite sure that Oregon is better than Notre Dame...can't you really make the argument that Appalachian State is too? The Irish have the worst offense in college really, they have the worst offense in college football, 119th in the rankings. And so while some of this will become about Mallet and Clausen and their "bright" futures, or about how Charlie Weis, not Lloyd Carr, is the more overrated coach. But regardless of talent or motivation or slides or anything like this, there are two absolutes here: Michigan is the better team, and Mike Hart guaranteed victory. And no matter what I think about Michigan, I believe in Mike Hart.
Michigan 21 - Notre Dame 7

Washington vs. #10 Ohio State - 3:30 PM - ESPN
Here's where you'll find out how good Washington is, and how well Ohio State can be exposed. The Buckeyes were sleepwalking in the first half last week, and if they do that again they'll lose here. Ohio State could become the quiet favorite in the Big 10 in a year where no one really expects much from them, and no matter their flaws or their lack of talent, I simply believe that this is exactly the type of game that they don't lose. The last eight years suggest you pick Ohio State in this one, and I'm not going against that for a hot team, no matter how well coached or how bright their future. Washington may still be back...they're just not this far back yet.
Ohio State 24 - Washington 20

Utah vs. #11 UCLA - 5:00 PM - Versus
Versus: We're more than just the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Utah is in big trouble - the Utes are 0-2, having lost to Oregon State (who then got crushed by Cincinnati) and Air Force, and they're still without QB Brian Johnson, who injured his shoulder against the Beavers. UCLA, meanwhile, continues to ride their experience towards the top ten and what may turn into a crowded Pac-10 field. If UCLA shows up, they win. Even on the road here, no question the Bruins are the pick.
UCLA 30 - Utah 17

East Carolina vs. Southern Miss - 6:00 PM - ESPN GamePlan
A huge Conference USA matchup here, and two legitimately good teams. East Carolina helped LSU make Virginia Tech's offense look bad - while the Tigers were shutting them down, the Pirates bounced back from a solid defensive effort to give up 31 points to North Carolina. However, ECU still won 34-31 on a last second field goal. Southern Miss we all saw give up 39 to the Vols, and I think in this one you'll get a balance between the two. This should be a really good football game, and a real I want to go with ECU because they're at home and coming off the big win, and I want to go with USM because they're a Tennessee opponent that I'd like to feel better about. Fare thee well, logic.
Southern Miss 27 - East Carolina 23

#19 Oregon vs. Fresno State - 6:30 PM - ESPN GamePlan
Logic would dictate here that Oregon can't play any better - and shouldn't have burned that fake Statue of Liberty play - than they did against Michigan, while Fresno State may not be able to either after pushing Texas A&M into overtime. Is Oregon better than A&M? Time will tell, but playing back in Eugene you've gotta like the Ducks. Fresno isn't to be overlooked, and if Oregon is still thinking about last week instead of this one the Bulldogs can give them a run for their money. But thanks to Appalachian State and the extra attention paid to Michigan last week, Dennis Dixon is now a certified Heisman candidate. Look for him to keep it up against a questionable Fresno defense.
Oregon 30 - Fresno State 16

Alabama vs. #16 Arkansas - 6:45 PM - ESPN
Nick Saban's still got that "process" card he's yet to play this year, and he's been saving it up for a loss. Houston Nutt, inexplicably, is running out of aces in the hole. This is the first real chance for Darren McFadden to shine in 2007, and while many have questioned this year's Tide defense, you'll get the real answers Saturday night. Alabama needs more consistent play from John Parker Wilson, as this is the first real test for the Arkansas defense as well that didn't get enough headlines for helping carry this team last year.

Arkansas is going to get their yards, with McFadden and Felix Jones running the show. The real key will be for Alabama's offense to keep pace and minimize mistakes; the Razorbacks won't throw unless they have to, and won't make many on their own. This game is always close - in the last 13 meetings, Alabama is +8 on the cumulative score between the two teams. Here, you're going to find out either that (A) Arkansas is really good again, or at least good enough to go on the road in Nick Saban's first SEC home game in Tuscaloosa and win, or (B) Arkansas isn't as good as last year, and Alabama is "back". At least that's what they'll try and tell you Monday morning.
Alabama 23 - Arkansas 21

Vanderbilt vs. Ole Miss - 7:00 PM - ESPN GamePlan
I will not pick Vanderbilt. I will not pick Vanderbilt. I will not pick Vanderbilt.
Ole Miss 23 - Vanderbilt 20

Kentucky vs. #9 Louisville - 7:30 PM - ESPN Classic
Brian Brohm and Andre Woodson, who've been competing against each other since high school, get one more go of it in Lexington on Saturday night. The Cats won some big games last year, beating Georgia and Clemson, but this is the one for 2007 that can earn them the football respect they so desperately want. Meanwhile, the question on everyone's mind with this game is "Can Louisville stop anybody?", let alone Kentucky's explosive offense. The Cards have more of a sense of having been there before, and there's a small part of me that sees a Louisville blowout here. However, I think UK is really, finally going in the right direction. I don't think this will turn into the 56-55 game people seem to be expecting, but I do think it'll be quality football and I do think we're going down to the last minute. Louisville's vulnerable and Kentucky's due. Time for Andre Woodson to cash in.
Kentucky 31 - Louisville 30

#14 Nebraska vs. #1 Southern Cal - 8:00 PM - ABC
Well, I picked Nebraska in this game on this blog last month...though the up and down performance at Wake Forest last week didn't offer me any great signs of encouragement. Southern Cal teams of the past have gone into hostile environments before, like Jordan-Hare, and come out more than alive - they dominated. I would, however, speculate that what they'll see in Lincoln as they come in as the #1 team in the nation and living a "dynasty", might be a little bit better than anything else they've seen thus far.

In this game last year, Nebraska played well defensively but couldn't get anything going on offense. They won't be lighting SC up, given the talent on the Trojans' defense, but if they can minimize mistakes and get something fairly consistent going with the ground game, they've got a fighting chance. Their defense should be equal to the task from last year, even without Adam Carriker, to slow down USC's offense enough to give themselves a chance. The smart money continues to be on Southern Cal, but we'll stick to our guns...Big Red in an upset, and if they pull it off, you can say they're back for real.
Nebraska 23 - Southern Cal 21

#2 LSU vs. MTSU - 8:00 PM - ESPN GamePlan PPV
Somehow I doubt MTSU puts up the same numbers they did last week. Somehow I doubt that even if LSU isn't as ready to play as they were last week, it won't really matter. This is a "don't get anybody hurt" game.
LSU 38 - MTSU 13

#15 Georgia Tech vs. #21 Boston College - 8:00 PM - ESPN2
Everyone seems to be feeling Georgia Tech at home in this one, but I'm not so sure about that. BC has been way better than the 21st best team in the country to this point, and have beaten two teams in Wake Forest and NC State that could easily handle Georgia Tech's competition to this point. The Eagles are good on both sides of the ball, and good with the run and the pass on offense.

This one, not Notre Dame or West Virginia in the bowl game last year, will be the real test for Taylor Bennett as the GT quarterback. If he can be efficient and lead scoring drives against the BC defense, he'll have earned his place and you'll have to start thinking about Tech as a real favorite in the ACC. But, having watched Virginia Tech's offense disappear in Baton Rouge and having yet to see what the new freshman can do, I like Boston College in the ACC right about now, and that includes this week. Matt Ryan and these kids have been right there for three years, and have always come up just short. 2007 may turn into the year where that changes - this should be a hard fought, competitive football game, but BC is more experienced and probably flat better, and they'll sneak away with a huge road win in Atlanta.
Boston College 23 - Georgia Tech 20

UNLV vs. #24 Hawaii - 9:30 PM - The Mtn
That great UNLV defense last week against Wisconsin will find it more difficult to show up this week, even though they get Colt Brennan in Vegas. And Brennan may not throw for 6 TDs this time around, but should still do plenty to pick up the win, as Hawaii could be the last great mid-major hope for the BCS, with Boise State and TCU having already gone down. UNLV's got a chance, but it's not a good one.
Hawaii 42 - UNLV 27

Colorado vs. Florida State - 10:00 PM - ESPN
Of great importance for both teams. If the Noles can't go on the road and win here, they've got most of the ACC schedule left, plus dates with Alabama and Florida, and a bowl game is no certainty given the way they played against Clemson. But for Colorado, beating Florida State is still a big deal, and Dan Hawkins could really use it. The Buffaloes used their luck once in beating Colorado State. Even with diminished talent, the luck runs out against a Florida State team that's still better, still strikes fear in the non-conference heart, and should get the job done no matter how bad the offense has struggled in this one.
Florida State 23 - Colorado 17

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